Sitting in a BBC radio studio for the first time on your own is a very daunting thing to do. I found myself in this position a few weeks ago, driving the desk for the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final.
The final words from my producer before I took control of all frequencies for the first time were “it’s the biggest game of the year. Don’t mess it up”, which helped. He didn’t say “mess” either, but you get the idea. I did find myself wondering how I had got here though, because three years ago I would never have imagined my life taking this course.
I came to Lincoln with all the ambitions to be the next big director and screenwriter. Visions of grandeur and critical acclaim were ever present in my mind, and I very much saw myself as the next Ricky Gervais (and/or Stephen Merchant). Then I found out we had to do six modules in the Media Production course, and resigned myself to do my time in the modules I did not want to do, such as Radio and Photography. The boring ones.
My first experience in a radio studio was to be all I needed to decide what course of life I wanted to take. There were buttons I could press, and a big room with a microphone in, and all my inner childishness surfaced as if I’d just walked into a toy shop made entirely from sweets. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that my group-mates and I put in just enough effort to scrape a 1st for that module. I saw radio as a passion, and it was all I could imagine doing for a long time.
As my university experience progressed, the deeper I fell in love with what I was doing, and working with my best friend for three years doing something we both enjoyed was fantastic. I started to look for other things to do outside university, and as I was struggling to get involved with Siren FM, I decided to look elsewhere.
My friend, a journalism student with the same obsession over Karl Pilkington, and I decided to start our own radio show in our second year. We found the online station 1radio.org/ and we started recording. Our run of shows (which consisted of us mainly talking drivel for an hour) was consistently the most listened to show on the entire station (we had in excess of 16 listeners per week!) and we had a right laugh making them.
When that had run its course, I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing else so I had to look again for things to do. I had joined the University of Lincoln Comedy Society, and so set to work hosting and producing a podcast to showcase the talent that was abundant in the group of budding comedians. We booked a radio studio every week, talked about nothing in particular for a few hours, and I edited it down to a weekly 30-minute podcast. We had a fair number of downloads a week, somewhere in the realms of about 100-150, and again, it was such a laugh making them.
Towards the end of my third year, somewhere in the middle of the major freak-out that comes with finishing uni and having no prospects, I was lucky enough to be granted a weeklong placement at BBC Lincolnshire. Here I was able to work on production teams for the Breakfast Show, the Mid-Morning show and a bit of online content, and what I learned and the people I met was invaluable to someone aiming to create a career in radio. I wasn’t doing anything fancy, just a few vox-pops and throwing ideas in at production meetings (some of which were laughed at, some of which were actually used), but I got my foot in the door and met some brilliant people.
Around the same time, I tweeted a sports commentator at BBC Radio Leeds to ask for a day’s work experience at a Leeds Carnegie game. The best bit about this (apart from the free ticket to the match) was meeting someone who worked there, and who told me to stay in touch. This I did, and the day I arrived home from leaving Lincoln was the day I first walked into the studios at BBC Leeds for a bit of BA training. And the rest, they say, is history.
Work experience is the most important thing you can get whilst at university, and if you can find a decent balance between studying (yeah, right) and getting yourself out there then you’re on to a winner. I struggled to get onto Siren FM until the end of my third year, but because of that I forced myself to look elsewhere, and I honestly think it’s the best thing that could have happened.
You can’t be afraid to put yourself out there, and meet people who are already there who can help you put your foot in the door. Sometimes a quick e-mail, or in my case a cheeky tweet, is all it takes to get the ball rolling. Plenty of people leave university with a decent degree, but it’s the people who have more than that who will get the jobs that are so in demand.
So my advice to anyone who wants to work anywhere in media, is just go and do it. Find somewhere near to you, whether it be a BBC station, or a production company, anything at all, go and meet them. Send them an email, and if they don’t reply call them. And if they still don’t reply go to them and make yourself known. Everyone starts at the bottom, and most people remember what it’s like to be there.
I was lucky to get where I have, and to be working the people I work with. But in this industry you make your own luck, and everything you do to get it adds up and works in your favour.
Good luck an’ that.